FBI agent’s practical advice

The headline on this interview in the Houston Chronicle states the obvious, but its subject – FBI Agent Randall Clark of the Houston Area Cyber Crimes Task Force – does not. This online-safety expert is clearly basing his message on reality, not fears. He says things borne out in the research of people like Dr. Finkelhor (see above): "The first thing that [parents] need to know (is) what the real threat is. A lot of parents think if their child's profile is online that someone will come in and attack them. The predator will go through the grooming process first," and if our kids know not to respond (and most online kids do), there can be no grooming process (see "How to recognize grooming"). Always ask your child first what he's up to online. [News-media generalizations work less and less because a child's social-Web experience is what she makes of it; it's a reflection of her and her social life – very individual.] If your child's evasive or secretive about who he's talking with online, there could be a problem, and you need to get more involved. "Parents need to understand that their child might be actively trying to deceive them. One of the things I actively advocate is that you have got to keep an eye on your child online. You can't let them have their computer in their room. You have to check up on them. You have to visit the sites they visit." If you have the sense that she's being manipulated or influenced by someone she doesn't know in "real life" and who may be an adult, it might be good to call your local police and the CyberTipline at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (CyberTipline.com or 800.THE.LOST). But when the Chronicle asked Agent Clark if young people should be banned from social sites, he said, "I don't think so. Social networking sites are not evil. Just like anything else, they can be misused."

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